Hart (2022) ISBN 9781849466660
Reviewed by John Bowers QC

When Michael Beloff was appointed a Senior Ordinary Appeal Judge in the Court of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey, Charlie Falconer perceptively remarked that ‘there was nothing ordinary about MJBQC’. We already knew that, but this book explains the how and the why, through anecdote and funny stories. Michael is a one-man institution who has packed so much into his life that he must have at least 48 hours in his day.

His background explains much about him.Although privately educated (Eton, no less) and at Magdalen College, Oxford and, as he puts it, ‘pale, male if not yet stale’, all four of his grandparents and his mother were immigrants. He strove for success in several fields.

He takes a broad sweep of his extraordinary career and then a thematic approach on topics such as sport, advocacy and judging. His time at the Bar is recalled in vivid detail and his practice straddled so many different areas; employment, commercial, public and sports. He then departed (but did not leave) the quads of the Inns of Court to grace the quads of academe. He did this partly because, he says, ‘the front row lifestyle [as a QC] was outflanked by concomitant exhaustion’. As President of Trinity, he was a great success and beloved by students.

Michael’s writing style is superb, original and very funny; eg, he says that the Duke of Westminster was the only man to take on the government who was almost as rich as it was. He describes in some detail the famous case in which he appeared involving Gillian Taylforth (then an EastEnders star) in a lay-by as ‘a stationary traffic offence’.

Some may think he drops names rather too much; telling us, for example, that he has met the Queen and three of her children (and those who are left out from the citation fest will be very miffed). Not many of us can write that we watched Rebecca Adlington in the VIP section of the Olympics with Bill Gates and Henry Kissinger! He is accurate when he says: ‘While my modesty is not false, my immodesty (more accurately vanity) is not false either’. Very few tributes to his skill as an advocate go unrecorded. A footnote records Tasker Watkins LJ’s comment that a case ‘had been outstandingly well argued by Beloff’ (he must possess a large cuttings file).

He lists some surprising venues that he has adopted from time to time for his legal practice: he conducted a consultation in a box at Lords Cricket Ground and admits that he ‘lured a few clients to Trinity for consultations with promise of lunch and libraries’ during his sojourn in Oxford. That surely gave him a competitive advantage over other barristers. He tells this story, perhaps against himself: ‘What is the difference between President of Trinity and God; God is everywhere but the President is everywhere except Trinity’. Indeed, he says that he appeared in no fewer than 80 cases during his years at Trinity. (I only managed a few more in my whole career doing a single job.)

Where he positively radiates joy is in his involvement in sports law. He was in many of the leading cases that define the field, co-wrote the main textbook and edited a journal. It is easier to list the sporting bodies on which he has not sat. I had not realised that there was an Ironman Appeal Tribunal of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and a European Golf Doping Appeal Panel, still less that MJBQC presided in them. In this area he often had to work quickly; one case about a Canadian triathlete started at 9 30pm and sat until 3am. He delivered judgment at 7am. He records that ‘sports judging has given me more pure delight as well as free tickets than the rest of it put together’.

He has generally been on the right side of history, and was described by Lady Hale as ‘a male feminist’. It is a feather in his cap that he is described in the Daily Mail by Geoffrey Levy as ‘rather straggly really with a beard and slippers or shoes with Velcro straps’. Some will find the constant references to precisely who was an old Etonian jarring, especially when they were on appointing panels. One might even think from reading the book that they run the country! What you will not find in the 317 pages of the book is anything about Michael’s personal life besides the name of his wife and children.

The book serves as an excellent guide to legal developments. I thought the penultimate chapter, ‘Change or decay’ really enlightening, divided as it was into ‘the Past; the way we were’; ‘The Now; there’s no time like the present’ and ‘the Future; que sera sera’. This extraordinary man spans so much in this extraordinary period.